Hogsback and the coal naysayers

TO all those gloomy forecasters who have predicted the demise of coal, Hogsback would like to paraphrase Mark Twain and say that news of coal’s death is premature. Also, go check the facts, because coal is still alive and kicking.

Lou Caruana

The Australian Bureau of Statistics says coal continues to supply around two-thirds of Australia's electricity generation despite an increase in renewable energy supply.

Non-renewable sources, largely coal and gas, accounted for 88% of Australian electricity generation in the 2014-15 financial year, down from 93% in 2008-9, while renewable power generation increased from 9.6% to 12% over the past three years.

While Hogsback does note that coal has lost some ground, in the big scheme of things it is only marginal and is powering some of the significant industrial developments in the nation.

New South Wales’ Premier Mike Baird’s network of lightrail connections which will criss-cross Sydney (at the expense of some lovely old oxygen-emitting trees) will rely on quality NSW coal to power the trams.

Coal’s contribution to Australian electricity generation is down from 70% in 2010 to 64.9%. The reason it is still so high is that there has been massive electricity demand for major industrial projects around the country.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said exports (which grew by 4.4%) were the major driver of the March quarter growth rate of 1.1%, contributing 1.0 percentage point to growth.

Increasing exports were driven by mining, which contributed 0.5 percentage points to GDP growth in the March quarter 2016.

Mining production rose by 6.2% from the December quarter 2015 and 11.2% in the year to March 2016.

A University of Wollongong study – which was commissioned by the NSW Minerals Council – found that 23 participating mining companies directly injected $11.3 billion into the NSW economy in 2014/15, including $2.7 billion on wages and salaries to 21,265 full-time employees, and $7.3 billion on purchases of goods and services with 7,694 local NSW businesses.

The record for Aussie coal contrasts starkly with that of the US, where it would seem the coal industry is caught in a bitter civil war not seen since the Battle of Gettysburg.

US coal production is expected to decline by almost one third to 230 million tons, between 2015 and 2040 in Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2016 reference case, which assumes the implementation of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan.

The US is facing an election this year. Who knows what the next president will do? The US coal industry may have a revival too.

So while the coal industry is supposed to be the cause of all the world’s problems and is “so nineteenth century”, it still happens to be making a major contribution to the health of the Australian economy and is the preferred means of power generation for many nations around the world.

To all those Greens senators who wish to take pot shots at coal on the way down, Hogsback has news for you. Coal is still here, and it will be for a long time to come.